Augur Project Status Update

Augur project aims to be an open source decentralized prediction market running on the ethereum network. Its a really cool idea, but it seems like a long time until its ready for live real money trading, or maybe I’m just impatient?

Augur was founded in 2014 with the first release coming in June 2015. Development was funded token crowdsale in October 2015. In 2016, Augur beta was released for testing on the Ethereum testnet. The project has gone through a few iterations since then, and while the community is waiting for real money release, the value of Augur tokens has been on a wild ride. At the time it was issued, the Augur tokens were one of the biggest Ethereum ICOs ever. The current market cap of Augur tokens is 11 million “REP” worth almost 500 million US dollars at the time of writing.

Back in December 2016, the value of REP tokens had been falling since the ICO, trading under $3 per REP, but by the summer of 2017, the price had climbed near $35 per REP. After trading in a range to just below $17, the REP tokens are now trading at all time highs above $40.

I’m not sure we can use the price of Augur REP tokens as a sign of the project’s progress/success. The value of REP tokens are secured by the ethereum blockchain, so digital security of REP tokens is as strong as the ethereum blockchain itself, but at the price of alt coins has been rising across generally, the REP price has gained as well. Its unclear how much of the gains in REP price are due to the specific viability of the Augur project, and how much is due to the general rise in the market value of alt coins. One way to find out would be to construct an index of alt coins, and compare REP returns to that index, try and strip out the market risk.

I’d really like to see Augur and other open source prediction markets such as Gnosis be successful, and I think they will be eventually, but I wish progress towards real money trading would happen sooner. To follow the progress of Augur, check out their regular blog posts.

Let’s talk about how Augur will work. Augur isn’t a for profit business, it will be an open source decentralized prediction market. This distinction is very important because its open source decentralized nature will be one of the features that protects it from being shut down by governments. Since Augur will run on blockchain tokens, it will become very difficult (if not practically impossible) for governments to stop Augur. There will be an Augur app that provides a basic user interface, but the real volume of Augur will likely come by interacting with the network by way of their API, check out their API documentation. If Augur can exist for real money trading, then hosted service providers will emerge to provide users with services that will help users interact on the Augur network. This will come in the form of business that exist to house user accounts, historical data for users, to guard user’s data and money, to provide payment services, etc. There will be data service providers that provide useful information to users.

I can think of lot’s of viable business models that will come to exist once Augur exists for real money. There will also be all sorts of ethical issues that emerge such as what to do about death markets, etc.

The odds that Augur will exist for real money use are getting higher, and I think the odds are becoming likely.

Review of Hive Blockchain Technologies

A friend of mine who is an investor based in Ontario Canada asked me recently to provide him with my thoughts on Hive Blockchain Technologies, which is a TSX listed company based in Vancouver. Below are my thoughts.

My process to analyse a public company (in Canada and/or the US) is pretty straight forward. The first thing I do is a Google search for their name. This helps link me to their company website, but also helps me see the main pages that might be relevant. I arrive at Hive’s website and download their investor presentation which is a 38 page PDF.  According to their investor presentation, Hive owns 2 GPU based mining facilities and owns the option to buy 2 more facilities from Genesis Mining (which is a cloud mining company, that I’ve used and reviewed on this blog). Genesis in turn owns 30% of Hive.

The first thing that strikes me as I’m reading Hive’s investor presentation is they are rightly currently focused on GPU based mining, which includes such currencies as Monero, Dash, ZCash, Ethereum. Bitcoin mining is not profitable anywhere in the world unless the miner can secure a subsidized price for power, and this usually involves some shady deal with some government or utility. From what I can see, its profitable to mine bitcoins if your facility is in a cold climate, with no taxes, right next door to a hydro electric facility so that no transmission costs are involved. This should be a hint to Ontario based towns with old hydro facilities, and a missed opportunity for Ontario Power Generation.

The problem with focusing on GPU based mining is that in the long run, the profitability of this type of mining should erode. As the market for the most popular based GPU based mining becomes more liquid, it should drive down mining profitability (especially when any kid living in his parents basement running a GPU rig is getting free electricity because his parents pay the utility bill) to the point where profit focused miners will need search further afield to less popular coins to mine. Could this be one of the reasons why Genesis is selling to Hive?

At the time of writing, Hive has a market cap of 800 million Canadian dollars. I visit Sedar.com to find their financial statements. According to their September 30th, 2017 filing, Hive has 5.8 mil in cash and receivables, almost 9 mil worth of equipment, and accounts payable of 3.2 mil. Looks like they spent more than 500k on marketing expenses and 129K on professional fees. These expenses are likely related to their fundraising. They also recorded a 2.7 mil expenses related to share based compensation.

Starting in on the notes from the financial statements, looks like Hive will recognize revenue from mined coins as they are mined and apply an exchange rate at the time the coins are mined, they will also recognize the change in value of their coins on hand based on current rates and apply the difference to current year’s profit/loss. This accounting method could cause their income/loss to swing wildly as the value of the currencies they mine rise and fall. This accounting method could also cause Hive to pay a lot more tax than they otherwise would because they are realizing the tax liability on an ongoing basis, as compared to a passive investor in cryptocurrencies who would only recognize the capital gains and losses as they are realized.

Hive will also depreciate their computer equipment on a four year straight line basis. This policy will also have a dramatic impact on earnings and taxes since these assets make up a large part of Hive’s balance sheet.

Digging further into the notes on the financial statements. The initial deals with Genesis leave Hive public shareholders in a secondary position. Genesis will hold the balance of power. The deal to sell Genesis their shares comes at a great expense to Hive’s shareholders. A finder’s fee of 3.9 million shares was paid to secure Genesis’s 30% stake, and at current market prices, these shares are worth 12 million dollars. Genesis is also the service provider to Hive’s mining operations, so now we have a situation where the “manager” of the assets is also the largest shareholder, I’ve seen situations like this before, and it never turns out good for public minority shareholders.

There have been a number of related party transactions over the past few quarters, and as a public minority shareholder, this would be a red flag.

So Hive doesn’t make profits, the only way they will make money is if the value of crypto currencies gain in value relative to the Canadian and US dollars. Who would want to invest in this company?  I’d say lot’s of people actually. The main investor would be the retail investor in Canada and US who knows enough about crypto currencies to be suckered in my a slick investment sales process. These investors know the potential power of crypto currencies, but not enough to evaluate the profitability of Hive specifically. I think these investors would be better off holding the crypto currencies and riding the wave themselves, rather than entrusting their money to a company with a lot less accountability directly to them. Another strategy for the retail investor who is a potential investor in Hive is to treat their cryptocurrencies as a fun hobby and learn about how to mine themselves. Find a friend who lives in an apartment building where the building pays the electricity, and setup a small GPU mining rig in their apartment, share the profits. You’ll never get rich this way, but actually, the best way to get rich is to do something like the managers of Hive has done, know more than your investors and sell them the investment, pay yourself a handsome fee in the meantime.

 

Where to Buy Bitcoins in Toronto

Kudos to my friends for getting their CoinBerry bitcoin ATM featured in BlogTO 🙂

How to buy Bitcoin in Toronto

As the price of Bitcoin continues to skyrocket many are starting to notice and are wondering how they too can get in on the latest investment sensation. The simplest answer is you can either go online to a Bitcoin exchange like Coinsquare or buy directly at one of the many Bitcoin ATMs around Toronto.

When is Bitcoin Most Volatile?

A user made a search on this site a few days ago wondering “what time of day is bitcoin most volatile?”

I’ll attempt to answer this question below, and if you have your own questions about cryptocurrencies, bitcoin trading, or related topics, please use the contact form on this site, or reply to this or other posts, and I’ll do my best to provide an answer.

It’s nearly impossible to tell what time of day the bitcoin price is most volatile. Since bitcoin is traded on a number of different exchanges around the world, against multiple fiat and cryptocurrencies, we would need to build a program able to get the data and run some statistical analysis to determine an empirical answer.  I suggest pulling data from a number of exchanges using their APIs, and putting this data into a statistical program: even excel will do. You can use the data to try to determine when standard deviation is the highest, etc. There is probably not a single answer, but the data will help you determine an answer that’s helpful to you, so that you can apply this data to improve your own trading process.

There are some other measures of bitcoin volatility to keep in mind. Check out The Bitcoin Volatility Index bitvol.info for a measure of historical volatility. I also think the numbers calculated by Deribit based on their options market are your best source to determine implied volatility.

When thinking about volatility, it’s important to recognize the different types of volatility. Historical volatility, also referred to as “statistical volatility” or “realized volatility”, measures volatility of an underlying by calculating standard deviation over specific periods of time. In comparison, “implied volatility” measures the future expectation of volatility. To calculate implied volatility, use an options pricing model such as Black-Scholes to solve for the volatility variable (this can be done in excel), or use a web based option price calculator.

Trading Clam Coins

CLAM coins are a cryptocurrency based on a proof-of-stake mining method. One new CLAM coin is generated each minute and awarded to users by proportional lottery based on the number of CLAMs they have working on their miner. This means there will be 60 new CLAMs created per hour, 1,440 created per day, and 525,600 CLAMs created each year.

The value of each CLAM simply depends on the interaction of supply and demand; there is no central authority that controls the value of CLAMs and their price is completely up to markets. Since their inception, the value of CLAMs has generally been rising against the US & Canadian dollars much like most other crypto currencies. CLAM users can consult blockchain explorers to check addresses, monitor transactions, etc, and can view the market cap of CLAMs on sites such as CoinMarketCap. At the time of writing, there are about 2.7 million CLAMs outstanding worth about $20,000,000 US dollars.

To get into the CLAM economy, the first thing you should do is buy some CLAMS; since CLAMs are based on proof-of-stake, you can’t mine any CLAMs without first having some CLAMs to stake.

To buy CLAMs, the first step is to get some bitcoins. If you’re Canadian or American, use QuadrigaCX since you can make Canadian dollar deposits using Interac online and then exchange Canadian dollars for bitcoins. For Americans, try a service such as Coinbase.

Once you have your bitcoins, you have a few choices. If you want to trade your bitcoins for CLAMs, you can find 77% of the volume for CLAMs on Poloniex and the balance of volume on Bittrex.  If you are a little wary about using exchanges, you can also use a service such as ShapeShift. At the time of writing Changelly does not offer CLAMs.

If you really want to mine CLAMs, check out my friend’s post on github describing how to set up your own miner.

In my opinion, Poloniex is the best place to trade CLAMs. The market is fairly liquid, but it jumps around enough (this is CLAM coins after-all) that there are opportunities for traders. But keep in mind that you can really only trade the CLAM/BTC pair: there is no other markets for CLAMs to fiat other than private sales between friends, so unless your friends are really into trading CLAMs, it’s probably best to trade on Poloniex.

The nice feature about trading CLAMs on Poloniex is you can both borrow and lend CLAMs. This means you can jack up your leverage at pretty cheap rates. At the time of writing, you can borrow bitcoins against CLAMs for less than 0.001% per day, and you can borrow CLAMs for less than 0.001%. You can also get some pretty cheap leverage on Poloniex.

At the time of writing, here is the current bid/ask spread on both Poloniex and Bittrex:

Poloniex 0.00047464 bid / 0.00047500 ask

Bittrex 0.00047483 bid / 0.00048195 ask

So you can see the bid/ask spread is much tighter on Poloniex, representing their greater volume/liquidity, but interestingly, there is more than a 1% gap between the bid/offer for CLAM/BTC on Bittrex. This presents an opportunity for traders who can arbitrage the different prices between exchanges. The fees on Bittrex are 0.25% per trade, so there is certainly an opportunity for some market making using a bot. Here is a link to Bittrex API documentation.

One funny thing to be aware of when trading CLAMs: since the market is only worth about $20 mil USD in total, and more than half of those CLAMs are tied up on just-dice, the trading for CLAMs can be cornered in an old fashioned way. This happened a few months ago on Poloniex. My friend and I noticed the lending/borrowing rate for CLAMs on Poloniex jumped very high, over 1% per day, much higher than the mining rate, so we moved a few CLAMs to the exchange to lend them out. It looked bullish for CLAMs at the time as the market was well bid. A few weeks went by, and the price of CLAMs kept rising. All of a sudden the market fell out, and the price crashed by half in a few hours. We suspect a small number of traders were borrowing CLAMs at high rates (thereby getting short CLAMs in the process) and feeding the order book with stink bids, and then as they pulled their bids and started selling their CLAMs, the bottom fell out (into air pocket).

The lesson from this experience is to beware when margin interest rates move dramatically: when you wonder what is happening, and you don’t have what you believe is the answer, take it slow. Move with caution, or, if you’re super bold, take the opposite position and help bring the market back in line.

Deribit Options Trading Tail Risks

Deribit is a crypto-derivatives site featuring bitcoin futures and bitcoin options. Its a pretty cool site that offers some unique features unavailable to retail users in fiat economies. From a retail user’s perspective, being able to enter limit orders based on either the bitcoin value or the implied volatility value is a cool boost. When users enter an order based on an implied volatility number, the exchange automatically refreshes the order each 6 seconds based on the current variables. This way, a retail trader can enter an order that adjusts to the current market based on a fixed implied volatility number. This is something that most retail brokers in fiat economies do not offer. This type of functionality is obviously available to anyone accessing fiat exchanges using APIs: they simply need to write these crons into their own programs.

I’ve been a fan of trading tail risks ever since the days of InTrade when I wrote the tail risks on economic numbers each night for over a year and never had a losing trade. Its well documented today, with the popularity of behavioural economics over the past few decades, that the untrained human brain makes inaccurate estimates of long shots, and a small mis-estimate for a long shot can translate into a lot of missing/added value when the statistics don’t support such prices.  For example, casinos are able to get a bigger house edge for long shot bets compared to even money bets. Consider the high house edge for most land based keno — which is pure long shots — compared to the low house edge for baccarat, the core game of which is close to even money.

Let’s apply the idea that we don’t estimate tail risks accurately to look for ways to profit on Deribit.

Deribit lists serial expirations on monthly and weekly bitcoin options. As time goes by, and expirations get closer, many of the “deep out of the money” strike prices lose liquidity because the minimum tick value is greater than the theoretical value of these tail risks. These deep out of the money strikes will go “no bid” once their theoretical value is less than the minimum tick. This is where the opportunity to profit can be found. I’ve noticed that what I’m assuming are manual order entry retail users with bids posted in the deep out of the money strikes where the theoretical price is lower than the single tick value. I assume that these users entered limit orders without expiration dates and didn’t cancel those orders as the particular strike went “no bid”. Another explanation is a user is short a particular deep out of the money strike and rather than waiting till expiration, the user is willing to pay an above market rate to close out the worthless position in order to free up margin or clean their position book. Whatever the reason, these bids are “pennies from heaven” for the savvy trader.

See the screen shot below that shows the bid on a worthless option at 0.0002 btc. The theoretical value of this option is actually worth less than the minimum tick of 0.0001 btc. A word of warning for those thinking of playing the tail risks: make them covered and remember the old saying about picking up pennies in front of a slow moving steam roller. Most of the time you’ll be able to take the penny, but there is a long-shot chance that you get called away or put in, so you need to either have the capital or enough liquidity to cover (either buying back or hedging). The nice thing about Deribit options is they are settled based on a futures contract that is liquid on the same exchange.

 

Buy Bitcoins with Flexpin Vouchers in Canada

Canadians have a few choices when it comes to buying bitcoins in Canada. One of the methods involves using Flexpin vouchers to exchange for bitcoins using services such as Bitaccess. Check out this post about my experience using Flexpin vouchers to buy bitcoins in Canada.

I’d say the best way for Canadians to buy bitcoins is to use QuadrigaCX, which is a cryptocurrency exchange based in Vancouver. The challenge with using QuadrigaCX is many Canadians have trouble with (and/or hate to deal with) compliance. If you want full access to QuadrigaCX deposit and withdrawal methods, then you should follow all the Canadian AML rules by verifying your account. Check out this post for my tips on how to verify your QuadrigaCX account.

What’s causing the Bitcoin Price to rise?

What’s causing the price of bitcoins to rise so dramatically?  I get asked this question many times a day from friends and colleagues wondering what’s driving the price of bitcoins. My favourite response is the old trader’s adage, “more buyers than sellers”. Even though this response is a joke, the basic fundamentals are true (I guess that’s what makes it an “adage”). The reason why the bitcoin price is rising is because there are a lot more buyers than sellers. An increasing number of people around the world are buying bitcoins, and by most back of the napkin estimates, only a small fraction of the world’s population has any bitcoin yet, so we might be only scratching the surface of the bitcoin price rise.

I think its only a matter of time until a wave of new crypto currency users come from countries with failed governments. There are lots of examples of this happening already such as the number of luxury goods shops accepting bitcoin in popular tourist destinations in France and Switzerland, they are being used by the elite from African and middle eastern countries. There are more than 1 billion people living in India and their governments are ineffective and wasteful, they are subject to wild banking laws and black markets make up such a large part of the Indian economy, it only makes sense that many people in India will move away from using their government currency and use crypto currencies instead. The government will have to spend a lot of resources and restrict the freedoms of citizens to access the internet in order to try and stop this trend.

Where could the price of bitcoin go?  Anywhere the market decides. Nobody is in control of the bitcoin price, and this is part of its appeal. If the bitcoin blockchain cannot provide value to users, its market price will eventually fall, maybe it will crash, but whether its bitcoin or some of the many other crypto currencies, the idea of blockchains has been discovered, and this cannot be unlearned.

Those of us with bitcoins should be less concerned about whether the price rises or falls, and more concerned about what governments will do about it. As the crypto economies grow, they will erode the power of governments to tax residents who do not disclose their crypto income/assets. And there will be increasing arms race between the most sophisticated members of rich countries and their own governments who try to tax their crypto currency profits.

 

Trading Bitcoin Price Spreads Bitfinex, Poloniex, QuadrigaCX

As bitcoin gains popularity, more exchanges are emerging globally, each with its own pros and cons. With so many exchanges to trade on, deciding which one is right for you will depend on your trading strategy, and one strategy I’d like to highlight is spread trading. This means profiting from the different prices for bitcoins between various exchanges. In the example below I’ll use examples for Bitfinex, Poloniex, and QuadrigaCX.  I use QuadrigaCX as an example because this is the best place for Canadians to buy and sell bitcoins, and QuadrigaCX also offers a bitcoin/US dollar pair. Also keep in mind that Bitfinex & Poloniex use USD “tether” which is a representative token and not actual US dollars.

The strategies described below are probably best done using the API from each exchange. If you are not familiar with using web APIs, then the strategies below can still be used by entering your orders manually, but you can execute orders (and manage order books) much better using a program to enter orders for you instead of entering orders manually. Here are links to web API documentation for each exchange: Bitfinex API, Poloniex API, QuadrigaCX API.

Let’s take a look at the market on each of these three exchanges to see what the current spreads are. When I refer to the “spread”, I’m referring to the difference between the bid and ask prices posted to the exchange, and then I will compare the “spread” between each exchange to see if there are any profit opportunities.

At the time of writing, here are the current markets:

Poloniex 15,529 / 15,560

Bitfinex 15,526 / 15,538

QuadrigaCX 15,505 / 15,999

The first thing we should notice as we look at these bids and offers is the markets on Bitfinex and Poloniex are much tighter than the market on QuadrigaCX. There is a small difference (a fraction of 1%) between the bids and offers on both Bitfinex and Poloniex, but a few percent difference between bids and offers on QuadrigaCX. This is where the opportunity lies. Even though QuadrigaCX is based in Canada and largely deals with Canadian payment methods, they still post a USD market, but since moving USD in and out of QuadrigaCX is much less common than Canadian dollars, their USD markets are also much more shallow.

When evaluating these markets, we should also keep trading costs in mind. Explicit trading fees are the biggest expense, the only other expense being the implied cost of carrying the float of money required to make trades. Poloniex will cost about 0.25% per transaction (depending on your volume), Bitfinex will cost 0.20%, and QuadrigaCX charges 0.50% per transaction. So in order to make a profit, we need to at least cover these trading costs.

The lowest bid based on the price quoted above is QuadrigaCX @ 15,526 and the highest offer is QuadrigaCX @ 15,999. If you bought 1 bitcoin at 15,526 and sold at 15,999, your profit before commissions would be 473 (the difference between the buy and sell). But what are the fees? 77.63 on the buy side, and 80 on the sell side for a total of 157.63. So if you can make a market with a spread of 473 and incur 157.63 of costs, then your profit will be 315.37.

Is it this simple?  Well, yes and no. In one sense, anyone is free to post markets and wait for traders to take their bid or offer. But on the other hand, the market is wide for reason. Looking at the volume of trades on the BTC/USD market on QuadrigaCX, it can sometimes take more than an hour to go by between transactions. This light liquidity is the risk that you need to take in order to get the reward.

Another way to bridge this liquidity is to post bids and offers on QuadrigaCX, recognizing that the spread is the widest on this market, and when you do get filled on one leg of the trade, you can offset your risk by taking the opposite side of the trade on a more liquid exchange (such as Poloniex and Bitfinex). For example, if we post a bid of 15,510 and an offer of 15,900 on QuadrigaCX, and the 15,510 bid gets filled, we can still work our sell order on QuadrigaCX at 15,900, while we also work duplicate orders on other exchanges. We can work OCO orders (“order cancels other”) so that when one of our sales gets filled on one exchange, we cancel the other working orders. You can see how using a computer program (a “bot”) to do this type of trading is much better than doing it manually (unless you want to stare at a trading screen all day).

The program (or trading strategy) that you use must make the necessary calculations for you, so that your program (or you) can know where to place buys and sells. If you are writing a program to do this type of trading, you need to have the program run checks and make calculations, adjust orders according to formulas. You can either set cron jobs to refresh orders and calculations on specific time intervals, or have the program place buys and sells based on other triggers, or both. Once you understand how to price these types of markets, its really up to your imagination how to let the program run your trading strategy. You can take more or less market price risk, you can tie up more or less capital, you can have the strategy take a bullish or bearish strategy, and you can use other exchanges (such as Deribit) to hedge your risk.

If you are a programmer and you know how to use JavaScript, Nodejs, python, or other such languages to build these programs, but you don’t want to risk your own capital, I am happy to put up the money in exchange for your work, please feel free to contact me on this site, I’m always looking for more competent developers.

CBOE Bitcoin Futures Contract Specs

On December 10th 2017, the CBOE will launch bitcoin contracts for trading on their futures exchange. Below is a description of the key facts associated with the CBOE contracts. My initial thoughts are that with a contract size of 1 BTC on the CBOE compared to 5 BTC for the CME contract, the smaller CBOE contract might make it more accessible to retail traders. I also think that the two contracts with different sizes with some slight basis risk (due to the reference price each contract uses) will complement each other by adding greater liquidity in a similar way that e-mini and miNY contracts did with other futures contracts. Both contracts will be cash settled based on their respective underlying indexes.

If they take off, another outcome of the CBOE futures contracts is that Gemini Exchange will likely get a lot more volume and attention; this is probably good for the Winklevoss twins’ business.

Here are the CBOE contract specs:

CBOE Bitcoin (USD) futures (XBT) are cash-settled futures contracts that are based on the Gemini auction price for bitcoin in U.S. dollars.

Contract multiplier is 1 bitcoin.

Ticker Symbol: XBT

Contract Expirations: “The Exchange may list for trading up to four near-term expiration weeks (‘weekly’ contracts), three near-term serial months (‘serial’ contracts), and three months on the March quarterly cycle (‘quarterly’ contracts).”

“Market Orders for XBT futures contracts will not be accepted. Any Market Orders for XBT futures contracts received by the Exchange will be automatically rejected. Stop Limit Orders are permitted during regular and extended trading hours for the XBT futures contract.”

Minimum Price Intervals: 10.00 points USD/XBT (equal to $10.00 per contract). The individual legs and net prices of spreads in XBT futures may be in increments of 0.01 points USD/XBT (equal to $0.01 per contract).

The reporting limit will be 5 contracts (this seems quite low, but maybe this is something that the CFTC wanted)

There will be price limits: please consult the exchange website for more information.